Tyranny and Love

Fresno Bee, February 14, 2021

Love is powerful and perilous. It arouses and inspires, transforms and uplifts. But love can also be manipulated and exploited. Child abuse and domestic violence are appalling perversions of love, as is tyranny.

Love hovers in the background of the Trump impeachment. The violence of Jan. 6 was inspired by a strange love. At the rally that led to the insurrection, Trump thanked the crowd for their “extraordinary love.” The crowd chanted in reply, “We love Trump.” As those chants morphed into, “Fight for Trump,” the erotic became violent.

Trump eventually called for peace in a video where he described his opponents as “so bad and so evil.” He told his followers, “We love you. You are very special.”

This is not, of course, how love is supposed to work. Love is not supposed to look like a violent mob, a battered wife, or a cowering child. Love should make things better, not worse. It ought to be grounded in dignity and truth. It should enrich and include.

Love is easily manipulated. The abuser takes advantage of his lover’s infatuation. The gullible child, the frightened wife, and the devoted loyalist are bewildered by perverted eroticism. The victims of erotic exploitation are confused by lies, threats, and gaslighting. Their trust is twisted, their emotions manipulated.

The Greeks pictured Eros, the god of love, as a mischievous spirit. Eros inspires courage and sacrifice. But this can become fanatical. Eros afflicts us with a kind of madness that connects us to the divine. But love often becomes its opposite.

Freud suggested that eros and aggression are intertwined. Love inspires us to courageously defend those we love against insults and threats. This natural instinct distinguishes friend from foe. When this instinct is perverted, it fuels racism and ethnic violence. In joining together with those we love, we sometimes turn against those we hate.

Love is also connected to power and to madness. Erotic love can make people do crazy things. The sexual appetite destroys common sense.

Plato linked the madness of love to tyranny. He recognized that love empowers the tyrant. The tyrant’s self-love is excessive. Despite his narcissism, his followers love him. Their strange infatuation leads them to do shameful deeds on the tyrant’s behalf.

This happens in politics, in cults, and in families. Sadistic husbands, abusive priests, and vicious politicians remain beloved despite their crimes. This is as irrational as it is dangerous. Misguided love encourages and apologizes for the tyrant’s transgressions. The wife refuses to press charges. The cult closes in to protect the abuser. The partisans rally round the tyrant’s flag.

Despite what he says, the tyrant does not really love his adoring disciples. He loves only himself. When the chance arises, he will throw his devotees under the bus without blinking an eye.

Genuine love is different. The Apostle Paul said that love is patient and kind. It is not aggressive or easily angered. It is not proud or self-serving. It rejoices in the truth. Christians maintain that God is love. The Christian vision of love involves giving and forgiving, mercy and sacrifice.

A similar idea is found in Plato, who suggested that Eros holds the key to virtue and happiness. Tyrannical love closes us off in aggression and violence. Platonic love opens us up to friendship and wisdom.

Love enchants and expands. It leads us beyond the narrowness of ego toward something larger. It widens our circle and enriches the self. Plato said it connects us to eternal truths. Platonic love transforms both self and world. Things become more beautiful and joyful. We are inspired to embrace and to create.

There is energy and light in love. The lover’s flame warms and illuminates. This heat can also burn out of control. Love can sink into possessive jealously. Fanatical desire can become destructive. Tyrants abuse love in families, religions, and states.

The solution is to put Eros on trial. When Eros becomes tyrannical, it must be convicted and corrected. Love ought to help instead of hurt. It ought to decrease violence and build community. It ought to keep us open to the possible. And instead of causing terror and tears, it ought to give us hope.

Sexism and Making Love

Real men love women as human beings, not as objects to grope or grab

Fresno Bee, November 3, 2017

Every day there is a new allegation about the lewd behavior of lascivious men. The sorry state of male sexuality is shameful. Real men do not force themselves on women.

These sexual predators give masculinity a bad name. Men need to stand up and repudiate the behavior of these creeps. It is embarrassing and pathetic to imagine grown men running around with their pants down and their tongues hanging out.

Adult men control their sexuality and channel it in morally appropriate ways. We do not behave like naughty children. We keep our hands to ourselves.

In our sexist culture, we need to further empower women. But it is men who need to stop being selfish pigs. We need to teach our sons and brothers to treat women better. We need to celebrate the joy of genuine lovemaking. And we need to understand why predatory sexuality is shameful and subhuman.

REAL MEN DO NOT FORCE THEMSELVES ON WOMEN

Real men love women as persons—not only our sexual partners but also our mothers, sisters and daughters. We value their happiness. We do not view them as pieces of meat to be conquered and consumed, grabbed and groped.

Some might prefer to avoid discussing this. Some adults even want to avoid teaching children the basics of reproductive health. But misogyny is connected to our avoidance of frank discussions of healthy human sexuality. Sexual ethics – and ethics in general – requires honesty and transparency.

The first rule of good sex is that consent is required. We each have a basic right to our own bodily integrity. “No means no” is an obvious rule. And it is “yes” that ought to stimulate desire. A shared “yes” is the ultimate turn-on. Good sex aims at mutual desire and satisfaction.

But our sexist culture warps this. Porn teach men to view women’s bodies as mere objects of male gratification. Masturbation requires no one other than you to consent. But real sex requires consent. And that requires communication and care.

SEXUAL PREDATORS FAIL TO COMPREHEND THE MORAL REALITY OF THE HUMAN PERSONS THEY ABUSE.

A further problem is that sexual predators appear to experience “no” as a turn-on. Instead of a shared experience of mutual pleasure and vulnerability, predatory sexuality treats the other person’s body as a mere tool to be used and discarded.

Sexual predators fail to comprehend the moral reality of the human persons they abuse. This reflects a serious character flaw. It is reasonable to suspect that grabbers and gropers will be rude and obnoxious in other relationships as well.

Sexual predation is as much about power as it is about sex. The predator enjoys manipulating the weak and vulnerable. But this is subhuman. The alpha dog humps the other dogs into submission as a display of power. This has nothing to do with making love or with genuinely human relations.

All animals copulate. But only human beings make love. Human beings are more than our bodies and our reproductive organs. Making love is a spiritual act. It is about shared enjoyment and reciprocal desire. Like conversation and dance, lovemaking is a give and take that enlightens, surprises and inspires. It is much more than bodies rubbing against each other. It is also a mingling of souls.

Sexual relations are – or ought to be – fully human relations. Good human relationships are respectful, kind, generous, honest and loving. They involve reciprocity and trust. This should be true in sex and in the rest of human affairs.

TO LEARN TO MAKE LOVE IS TO LEARN TO BE A BETTER PERSON.

The sexual predator fails to understand this. He takes what is not freely given. He dominates instead of communicating. And he violates trust instead of cultivating it.

Bad sex is one-sided. It is needy, selfish and narcissistic. It approaches sex as something to be done to a body and not as something to be shared with a person. But sex without reciprocity is merely masturbation, a lonely act devoid of human connection.

To learn to make love is to learn to be a better person. Lovemaking teaches us about intimacy, tenderness and care. Those lessons serve us through the whole of life.

The grabby goats of American culture have failed to learn these lessons. They are an embarrassment to masculinity. Real men do not abuse women. We love them. And we understand that making love is a spiritual practice that is degraded by shameless predatory behavior.

Love and hate at Christmas time

Love and hate at Christmas time

Fresno Bee, December 3, 2016

Hate is growing. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that hate crimes have increased since the November election. The Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno received hateful threats that mentioned Donald Trump. But hate already was rising before Trump’s election.

According to the FBI, hate crimes increased 6 percent in 2015. And hate goes both ways: Anti-Trump protests, vandalism and graffiti are a problem. Trump’s star on the Hollywood walk of fame has been chiseled and defaced.

We are in the middle of an ever-increasing hate-storm.

The Kellogg company pulled its advertising from Breitbart News, citing disagreement with Breitbart’s pro-Trump values. Breitbart ran a headline saying Kellogg “declares hate for 45,000,000 readers.” Breitbart’s editor-in-chief said, “If you serve Kellogg’s products to your family, you are serving up bigotry at your breakfast table.”

Breitbart has called for a Kellogg boycott. Will we now suspiciously eye one another in the grocery store? The fight over Fruit Loops seems absurd. But it is also symbolic of our acrimonious era.

An “us vs. them” mindset is developing. We look for allies, while fearing everyone else. Emotions are frayed. We become wary and worried. Every glance, action and word seems pregnant and portentous. A spark can easily cause this powder keg to snap, crackle and pop.

Hate, fear and violence form an unholy trinity that undermines stable and harmonious social life. These evils provoke a tit-for-tat logic. We fear those who fear us. Those we hate hate us in return. Each turn of the ratchet of fear and hate creates an atmosphere in which violence becomes likely.

We need to stop it. When asked about outbreaks of hate and violence on 60 Minutes, President-elect Trump said he is saddened by it. He said, “If it helps, I will say this: Stop it!”

Yes, it does help. We all need to say it loudly. Stop the hate. Stop the violence.

We desperately need de-escalation, reconciliation and human kindness. It sounds naïve, but the simple truth is that the world needs love. We need trust, communal feeling, generosity and hospitality. And more of us need to say to the haters, “Stop it.”

Time magazine recently published an article by researchers from UCLA and Princeton that argues that communities can de-legitimize violence and prevent hate by speaking out against it. Violence decreases when masses of people – including prominent “influencers” – vocally and vigorously condemn it. When hate appears, we should all be vocal in condemning it.

The way to cure darkness is to shed light. The way to fight hatred is to spread love. The way to stop violence is to practice nonviolence. And the first step in ending social dysfunction is to say, “Stop it.”

Violence and hate easily become normalized. It begins with a few mean jokes and insulting words. Soon, we are not surprised or offended by rough language and hateful speech. This is especially true when leaders and elites start speaking in insulting, uncivil and hateful ways.

But hateful speech and violent deeds are not normal or defensible. Normal people respect each other. We normally view each other as partners in the project of building up the common good. Normal families, businesses and polities work together, avoiding rancor. Normal people follow the Golden Rule of treating others as you want to be treated.

This time of year, we teach our children that they better be good, for goodness’ sake. And we talk about being naughty or nice. The moral spirit of the season is about generosity, hospitality, love and peace.

Of course, even Christmas has become political. But you don’t have to believe in Christ – or Santa – to understand the moral message of Christmas. The Golden Rule is common to all of the world’s traditions.

It is better to give than to receive. It is better to welcome than to exclude. It is better to build up than to tear down. It is better to live in peace than to be at war. And it is better to love than to hate.

Let’s declare December a hate-free month. Tone down the political vitriol. Reach out to the marginalized. Defuse conflict, violence and fear. And if someone says a hateful word, quote Trump, and tell them to stop it.

http://www.fresnobee.com/living/liv-columns-blogs/andrew-fiala/article118497773.html

Reproduction, Sex, and Ethics

The robots are coming

Is the world ready for sex robots?

Fresno Bee, October 16, 2015

  • Robots cannot replace some genuinely human activities
  • Sex robots and robot soldiers are morally problematic
  • Human life involves humane labor and loving relationships

The robots are coming. Robots can manufacture consumer goods, milk cows, defuse bombs, fight fires, prepare food, and serve it. Soon we’ll see self-driving cars, robot soldiers, and yes, even sex robots.

Some argue for a ban on certain robots. A group of scholars and tech experts – including Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, and Noam Chomsky – has called for a ban on autonomous weapons. More recently, computer scientist Kathleen Richardson started a campaign against sex robots.

The impending robot invasion creates a brave new world of ethical problems. One hyperbolic fear is that robots will turn against us, as in the sci-fi scenarios of “Terminator” or “The Matrix.” Robot defenders argue, however, that there is no need to fear a robot apocalypse. Since robots are basically rule-following machines, they will not turn on us unless programmed to do so.

But there is no perfect system of rules. Conflicting rules force hard ethical choices. Robots programmed to save humans may have to kill some to save others. For example, driverless cars programmed to avoid pedestrians may swerve into traffic, putting other humans at risk. Rule-following is no guarantee of safety in our complex world.

Robot enthusiasts will argue, nonetheless, that robots are more rational than we are. Machines can calculate probabilities and maximize outcomes in a way that human decision-makers cannot. A robot soldier might be better than a stressed-out human soldier at following the rules of engagement. Robot cars may minimize the overall harm of high-speed collisions better than frantic, angry or self-interested human drivers.

But the fact that robots do not feel squeamishness, fear or doubt is a concern for those who value the emotional component of ethical decision-making. Feelings of guilt, remorse, fear, joy and hope are important components of the moral life. A robot who feels no joy in saving a child and no guilt at killing one is a kind of moral monster.

Another worry is that robots make it too easy to do dirty work. Robot soldiers would make war easier. Since robots don’t suffer PTSD or leave behind orphans and widows, it would be easier to send them into battle. But if robots can kill without risk, we might take combat less seriously and thus be more permissive about going to war.

Furthermore, the robot revolution poses problems for human agency and identity. This is the danger of sex robots. Do we really want people having sex with machines? Proponents imagine sexbots as a humane substitute for human prostitution. But critics worry that sexbots may increase the demand for sex objects, thus contributing to sexual violence and putting women and children at risk. What would we think of pedophiles who build childlike sex robots?

Robot enthusiasts argue that robots will decrease risk, increase productivity and improve human happiness. Smart machines can kill, drive and flip burgers with more precision and less danger than sleepy and disinterested human beings. Unlike human beings, robots don’t get tired, depressed, jealous or drunk. Nor do they complain when they are ignored, mistreated or disrespected.

But creating robots to do dangerous and degrading work is only a deflection from deeply human problems. The scourges of war and sex-trafficking will not be solved by robotic soldiers or cyber prostitutes. We need human solutions to these problems grounded in humane values such as love, respect and self-control.

We also need to remember that good work is intrinsically valuable. Happiness is found in a job well done. In our effort to speed up work and create efficiency through mechanization, we forget that work is what we do and who we are. There are pleasures and virtues to be found in cooking, driving and milking cows. We need productive occupations. When the robots take over, what will we do all day besides fondle our phones and poke at our apps?

Some activities that are so important that we ought not have robots do them: killing and sex are obvious examples. A fully human life is more than mechanical tasks and rule-following behavior. Human experience includes emotional, ethical and spiritual depth, as well as concrete embodied relationships. There is no robotic replacement for the labors and loves that make life worth living.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/living/article39484851.html#storylink=cpy